THE INTERNATIONAL POLAR YEAR 2007–2008 will be the largest internationally coordinated research program in 50 years. It will be an intensive period of interdisciplinary science focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic. The polar regions are especially important for the following reasons:
- They are presently changing faster than any other regions of the Earth, with regional and global implications for societies, economies and ecosystems. This change is particularly evident in widespread shrinking snow and ice.
- Processes in polar regions have a profound influence on the global environment, and particularly on the weather and climate system. At the same time, the polar environment is impacted by processes at lower latitudes. Examples include the formation of the ozone hole and the accumulation of pollutants in the Arctic environment.
- The Arctic is home to more than 4 million people, and these communities face changes in their natural environment and in their natural resources and food systems — changes that are, for the most part, of a rapidity and magnitude beyond recent experience or traditional knowledge.
- Within the polar regions lie important scientific challenges yet to be investigated and unique vantage points for science. The regions beneath the polar ice sheets and under the ice-covered oceans remain largely unknown. Many of the new scientific frontiers in the polar regions are at the intersection of traditional scientific disciplines.
Six scientific themes provide a framework for IPY 2007–2008.
- Status: to determine the present environmental status of the polar regions;
- Change: to quantify and understand past and present natural environmental and social change in the polar regions and to improve projections of future change;
- Global linkages: to advance understanding on all scales of the links and interactions between polar regions and the rest of the globe, and of the processes controlling these;
- New frontiers: to investigate the frontiers of science in the polar regions;
- Vantage point: to use the unique vantage point of the polar regions to develop and enhance observatories from the interior of the Earth to the sun and the cosmos beyond;
- The human dimension: to investigate the cultural, historical and social processes that shape the sustainability of circumpolar human societies and to identify their unique contributions to global cultural diversity and citizenship.
IPY 2007–2008 research activities were assembled from the ideas of researchers in more than 60 countries. A total of 228 projects have been endorsed by the ICSU/WMO Joint Committee for IPY 2007–2008. These projects have a strong interdisciplinary emphasis and address the six themes as well as education and outreach objectives. IPY projects will exploit new technological and logistical capabilities and strengthen international coordination of research. They aim to attract, engage and develop a new generation of researchers and raise the awareness, interest and understanding of polar residents, educators, students, the general public and decision makers worldwide. IPY projects will collect a broad-ranging set of samples, data and information which will be made available to an unprecedented degree.
IPY 2007–2008 aims to leave a legacy of enhanced observational systems, facilities and infrastructure. The observational networks to be established during IPY include integrated ocean observing systems in both the Arctic and Southern Oceans, coordinated acquisition of satellite data products from multiple space agencies and observational systems for astronomy, sun–earth physics, atmospheric chemistry, meteorology, ecosystems, permafrost, glaciers and geophysics. Many observing systems within IPY will be developed within the framework of existing international global observing systems.
The period from 1 March 2007 to 1 March 2009 will be exciting and historic. The International Polar Year 2007–2008 should significantly advance our ability to meet the major science challenges of the polar regions and generate a rich legacy, notably in a new understanding of polar processes and their global linkages at this critical time— for it is becoming ever clearer that we humans have to recognize and respond to the planetary limits of our behaviour. The polar regions provide a litmus test and the insight to help us do so.
The scope of science for the International Polar Year 2007-2008, Executive Summary, February 2007. Produced by the ICSU/WMO Joint Committee for IPY 2007-2008.